The Sugar and Slavery Gallery at the Museum of London Docklands – Stories of Great Suffering Upon which our Privileged Lives Are Founded

The International Slave Trade was in force between the mid seventeenth and the late nineteenth centuries. Although it was abolished in 1838 it didn’t magically stop on that date.

Museum of London Docklands
Museum of London Docklands

And in that time millions of men, women and children from Africa were treated as if they were subhuman, disposable objects, moving parts of a machine, whose sole purpose was to make even more money for the wealthy European traders.transatlantic-slave-trade

Every great English country house I visit has a history to tell; and when I look into that history I look for the words “business interests in the West Indies“, and then I know that the grandeur of this house rests upon the exploitation of those enslaved Africans.

So complex is the tapestry of wealth and advancement and progress and exploitation of human lives in the International Slave Trade, that we cannot ever extricate ourselves from the fact that many of the institutions upon which we rely for the comfort and privilege of our lives here in this Western consumer society, are founded upon the misery and pain of millions.

In William Walton’s choral work Belshazzar’s Feast there is a powerful bass aria in which the singer enumerates all the wealth and magnificence of Babylon, over which King Belshazzar reigned. The once-mighty city of Babylon in Iraq has been described as “a microcosm of human history.” The bass sings:

Babylon was a great city,

Her merchandise was of  gold and silver,

of precious stones, of pearls, of fine linen,

of purple, silk and scarlet,

All manner vessels of ivory,

All manner vessels of most precious wood,

of brass, iron and marble,

Cinnamon, odours and ointments,

Of frankincense, wine and oil,

Fine flour, wheat and beasts,

Sheep, horses, chariots, slaves

And the souls of men.

Just so during any economy which relies upon the labour of enslaved people. And I must admit the words of that aria flashed into my mind while I was walking round the Sugar and Slavery Gallery at the Museum of London Docklands.

Enslaved Africans - transatlantic-slave-trade
Enslaved Africans – transatlantic-slave-trade

If you visit this gallery, you’ll  find yourself totally absorbed and caught up in an imaginative, interactive experience, in which you examine and reflect upon and enter into the heart of that slavery experience. You’ll consider all the facets of racism, both during those times, and up to the present day; and quite possibly, during the time you’re walking through the gallery, you’ll be drawn to  identify with those who suffered, and will feel personally responsible and involved in that massive crime against humanity.

If you’re in London, I urge you to include the Museum of London Docklands on your list of places to visit; it has many other galleries, too, telling you of London’s history, and you will find it a thoroughly engrossing experience.

 

 

 

 

 

Author: SC Skillman

I'm a writer of psychological, paranormal and mystery fiction for young adults and new adults, and have also published a self-help book for aspiring writers, all about how to write a novel, and about writers, their lives and works. Out soon: another non-fiction book called Spirit of Warwickshire, and the first in my Dylan Raftery gothic series for young adults, Director's Cut. Find all my published books here: https://www.amazon.co.uk/S.-C.-Skillman/e/B004CY5GKE

5 thoughts on “The Sugar and Slavery Gallery at the Museum of London Docklands – Stories of Great Suffering Upon which our Privileged Lives Are Founded

  1. I remember reading ‘Beloved’ by Toni Morrison at university and researching the slave trade. It really did shock me. And I also used to teach a young people’s novel about the underground railway which was fantastic, but I think it’s out of print now. I see there’s a more recent book on the subject ‘Voices from the Underground Railroad’ by Kay Winters which I’d like to read.

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    1. Thank you for your comment. I looked up ‘Voices from the Underground Railroad’ and see it’s a children’s book for ages 7-9. It’s good that this subject is well-handled in children’s books. The storyline reminds me a bit of ‘Rabbit Proof Fence’ (book and film) about the escape of aboriginal children from the white colonial settlers’ “correction and re-training centres” in Australia, in the early 1930s. Heartrending and it make you angry too about the ignorance and arrogance of those who sought to impose the religion and culture and mindset of the white settlers upon the aboriginal community.

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  2. I think the thing that brought home the horrors of slavery for me was finding a slave yoke in the church at Helmsley. It was a strak illustration of how over twelve million people were bought, sold and used, with less regard for their lies than had they been cattle. It is shameful… and yet it still continues.

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    1. Thank you for your comment Sue. Yes, it is a chilling thought that although we don’t have the International Slave Trade any more we do have modern slavery, reminding us that we must be vigilant in our own society and our own lives, in watching out for the signs and doing what we can to help free those who suffer, and bring perpetrators to justice. For those who want to know more about this, go to this link and find out about Stop the Traffic: https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p01j0dzj

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